The Insider by P. V. Narasimha Rao

“The novel that tells the explosive truth about Indian politics”

 

Late P. V. Narasimha Rao (1921-2004) was Prime Minister of India (1991-1996) and Foreign Minister of India (1980-84, 1988-89). After his retirement from politics, he published a semi-autobiographic novel. Anand is the leading character of that novel. However, it becomes quite clear that Anand is actually Rao himself.

Narasimha Rao provides many insights into the Indian political scenery, especially the political culture of the Congress party. The most important quotes on certain issues of Indian politics are given below:

(P. V. Narasimha Rao, The Insider, New Delhi a. o.: Viking, 1998, 767 pp.)

Feudal political culture

“Thus the concept of kingship and allegiance to a monarch was ingrained in the collective consciousness.” (p. 130)

“In a feudal environment, womanizing is almost a status symbol. It is a measure of masculinity.” (p. 213)

“Injustice and discrimination had eaten into the system like cancer for several decades.” (p. 320)

In the year of 1962: “What is this new thing called the Opposition? The people just did not know. They had never heard of this concept either when the kings ruled or when feudals held sway” (p. 364)

… and the (Congress) split in 1969

“This led to a situation where legislators became permanent antagonists, behaving like permanent enemy groups. The activity was political, but the minds behind it were feudalistic and implacable all the way. They simply could not co-exist in the same party.” (p. 549)

Political power

“The essence of power cannot be shared. It’s you or me, never you and me.” (p. 135)

“Power became a game, a source of entertainment, like the fights between gladiators in the Roman Empire or cockfights and bullfights in medieval Indian principalities … The people figured nowhere.” (p. 538)

“(…) every person in power stood alone, at the moment of his fall, as at the moment of his death.” (p. 548)

“After all, this is a game where each one is out for himself, isn’t it?” (p. 700)

“Shekhar stayed awake that night plotting and scheming.” (p. 763)

… and getting rich / the poor as vote-bank (philosophy of the Congress)

“Political power is the only means by which you can serve the poor in an underdeveloped country like India. … So you have to be in power continuously, for the sake of the poor. If you happen to get rich en route, that is only incidental. And logically, therefore, whatever you do to gain or retain power is legitimate, since it is meant for the poor.” (p. 135)

… Ennobling. Intoxicating. Corrupting

“From the very first day in office, Anand found that it was not easy to conduct himself as he wished, to resist the temptations of power – maddening, intoxicating, distracting, exciting.” (p. 218) …

“He (Anand-M.S.) spent long hours mediating on the concept of power. Ennobling. Intoxicating. Corrupting. … He found himself neutral to the influence of power.” (p. 221)

… party-ticket fever

“… the selection of suitable candidates for the party had become a free-for-all, with personal connections assuming greater importance than merit.” (p. 115)

third General elections, 1962: “loyalty to the Nehru family, gradually assumed crucial importance.” (p. 357)

… no ideology

“Chaudhury was one of those politicians with no particular ideology other than power. He did not believe in any of the ‘isms’ bandied in statements and resolutions. In a country with half-naked illiterates living in sub-human conditions, what is the relevance of any ideology, he often asked. … We wanted to rule our country, so we made the British quit. That does not mean we have to reject British techniques of administration.” (p. 131)  “(He) was a firm believer in money and tactics.” (p. 132) … “He learned how to mouth his party’s ideology ritually and endlessly, without believing a word of it. It worked very well and, moreover, he found that there were several like him. None of them cared about values, ethics, standards or beliefs. (…) In private, there were corrupt and lascivious.” (p. 134)

“To be sure, everything was done in the name of the people. In actual fact, the people figured in the political drama only occasionally – except during elections, of course.” (p. 223)

“ (But the people …) are only fed hollow rhetoric and empty promises.” (p. 223)

“Power depended on what you made the people believe you would do.” (p. 294)

“(…) this game where election promises had lost much of their credibility and party manifestoes were reduced to mere scraps of paper.” (p. 616)

The factor of caste in the selection of ministers for the cabinet

“There were social compulsions, the caste factor and its ramifications, apart from region, standing, experience, general reputation etc. Most important, of course, was loyalty to the chief minister through thick and thin-especially thin. And competence couldn’t be ignored either, to the extent it gave the government some ‘weight’ in the eyes of the people.” (p. 199-200)

“The caste factor loomed larger with every passing day, and Indiraji and everyone in the high command had noticed it. That unmistakable trend had appeared in the political process and threatened to overwhelm it eventually. (…) It was a grotesque irony for a party which proclaimed castelessness as its creed.” (p. 210)

Elections

“elections in India were a choice, not of the best, but of the least worthless.” (p. 295)

… 1967: ”Ideology taking a second place, electoral choices were made for different reasons. Casteism, for instance. (…) caste conflicts became the order of the day. Several caste groups organized their own private amies. Rioting and pitched battles disrupted the peace and tranquillity of the rural areas. (…) Middlemen sprang up (…) booth-capturing rapidly developed into a fine art. … a new situation” (p. 499-500)

Elections to the Legislative Council (1963?)

“Never was the combination of wealth and stupidity so transparently obvious as in this electoral wizardry.” (pp. 415-6)

(Congress) high command

“And mind you, the high command is always right and the other fellow always wrong! That’s the law in the ruling party (…) The high command, you’ll notice, is never partisan. It’s never sold to anyone in particular. It only makes everyone feel happy and confident of its support. Until, of course, the incumbent begins to hang himself. The high command holds the scales even between warring factions of the party in the states, so delicately that when the moment of reckoning comes, the unwanted chief minister is eased out painlessly and the next favourite is installed with all democratic fanfare. And the procession goes on.” (p. 197)

… systematic crisis (in face of the Naxalbari movement)

“Something new weighed on their minds – the imminence of a systematic crisis. Well, we are all insignificant; it is for the national leadership to sort these things out … That seemed a good alibi.” (p. 534)

Congress Party

“(Some party members) take the party programme more as something to flaunt, rather than implement. They lay more store by gimmicks to be employed at election time.” (p. 315)

a party “which was dominated by established leaders” (p. 318)

“it’s a mixed crowd with mixed beliefs and mixed motivations (…), not a cadre-based, closed-circuit party. It is more a platform, a forum, an organization.” (p. 323)

Historical task of the (Congress) party

-re to M. Gandhi’s advice of dissolving the party after independence:

“(…) it had still to accomplish the task of integration. Jawaharlal Nehru spearheading that process today. Sardar Patel completed the political integration of the country. However, the emotional and economic aspects of integration remain far from complete. We are indeed only beginning to probe them. What the country has always had, despite varying vicissitudes, is cultural integration.” (p. 323)

“God! Does this country need the threat of external aggression to unite it internally?” (remark during the war with China in 1962) (p. 375)

Bureaucracy

“The bureaucracy dodged decisions, prevaricated and generally behaved as though Indira Gandhi’s ‘minority’ government was on its last legs.” (p 600)

“The bureaucracy had nothing to suggest. They didn’t think they needed any change anywhere. Everything was fine as it was.” (p. 731)

“Everything about him (chief secretary) smacked of ‘establishment’ – easy to predict, but very difficult to change.” (p. 730)

Press

“(…) to a journalist, a compelling headline was much more valuable then the head of its best friend.” (p. 188)

“(…) Their difficulty is that their job essentially lies in describing the way things go wrong. They look for a minister who could be an easy target.” (p. 211)

“The magazine, as a matter of policy, never ascertained facts, always fabricated news as required. (…) He had come to believe that any report he sent, of anything positive happening anywhere, would cost him his job.” (p. 572)

CBI

-“a fictional part (of its massive report)” (p. 195)

J. Nehru’s letters to the Chief ministers

“As for (those CMs) who were impervious to everything save their own interests, they probably thought it a waste of time and attention, though no one said so.” (p. 289)

The third General elections, 1962:

“What had gone wrong, or what was about going to go wrong? (…) It was perhaps disillusionment, because performance had fallen short of expectation. Maybe the expectation itself had been pitched too high to begin with. (p. 358) … The idealistic matrix of the freedom struggle had practically disintegrated. (p. 364) … rampant corruption, nepotism, favouritism, casteism and communalism sweep across the country like hurricanes. Indeed, corrupt politicians in the ruling party get full cover and protection under Jawaharlal Nehru’s leadership.” (p. 365)

“Caste and community determined the voting pattern to a large extent. (…) The true spirit of democracy became a tattered illusion and a pathetic shadow of the autocratic ambience that had existed in the country for centuries.” … “it was a period of creeping disenchantment, with nothing much to enthuse the masses.” (p. 366)

Indira Gandhi

1967: “A new conclave around Indira Gandhi , nicknamed the ‘kitchen cabinet’, had come into being at the Centre.” (p. 496)

“(…) he wondered if this phenomenon, this dependence on presence and charisma, just darshan and nothing else, was a sign of things to come.” (p. 505)

(Rao’s opinion?) “a very complex complex indeed. It consists of a sense of inferiority, a feeling of insecurity, and an admission of inadequacy. (…) consuming ambition to attain immortality,  to eclipse her great father. “ (p. 511)

“(…) the emerging trend of regionalism was largely due to the absence of a dominant national personality.” (p. 521)

“The nationalization of banks was indeed the first real item of her policy, meant as the first frontal attack on poverty.” (p. 600)

“Indira Gandhi has saved the party (…). She has trimmed the party and energized it after the split.” (p. 612)

“Out of this challenge was born the most evocative symbol of total response. The basic root – as well as the totality – of the malady being poverty, the slogan Garibi Hatao (Remove Poverty) took shape. In no time, it caught the people’s imagination.” (p. 621)

“Anand remained with Indira Gandhi (…), her hands lost their grip on the country’s future. Nothing else her various advisers tried – loan melas, programme for the landless, housing schemes and a host of other initiatives – could substitute the criticality of the land reform programme to revolutionize the rural scene.” (p. 766)

… political culture under Indira

“Anand was not the torch-bearer of any single interest in the state. No particular class, no dominant caste, no identifiable section. Could he have reached this position in the normal course, even with luck? Obviously not, except through Indira Gandhi and by this absurd method of nominating chief ministers (…) if you had Indira Gandhi’s blessings, you didn’t have to have anything else – class, standing, influence (…) If she approved of you, you were nominated.” (p. 727)

… and lobbying:

“Does Indira Gandhi know (…) what her ‘loyal’ followers do in her name twenty-four hours a day? In any case (…) she wouldn’t care (…) she was a politician first and last. She needed the Gopi Kishens and Ranjan Babus as much as they needed her patronage – real or imaginary. It was a matter of mutual convenience.” (p. 702) … “It took four months for me to restore my image – again only by lobbying. (…) The system is rotten (…) and so is the party … Where does our great party stand today, (…).” (p. 706)

“Gopi Kishen (probably R.K. Dhawan-M.S.) lingered at the Prime Minister’s house for almost three hours – without the slightest intention of seeing her. (…) To all new visitors, he said, he had just met the PM. (…) bully-cum-banter technique (…) He has done nothing for the flood victims. He lobbies all the time in Delhi. Doesn’t even attend office regularly. He is almost unlettered. Corrupt to the core. Has made millions. (…)” (p. 691-2)

Anand’s (read Rao’s) political philosophy

“I prefer to reserve a judgement until a political choice appears. And meanwhile, I am in no hurry for positions of power.” (p. 173)

“Wisdom lay in preventing or avoiding damage altogether (…) . The state, then had to employ its power judiciously to counter the hiatus (between desire and capability). To that end, it had to support the disempowered, and protect and assist the weak. It had to neutralize social imbalances.” (p. 222)

“He had hardly done anything to turn the land reform slogan into a viable programme. It was still a far cry from implementation. There was a law in the statute book, but it was like an empty shell. There were too many loopholes through which it could become – indeed had already become – a dead letter in practice, either due to deliberate inaction or through extreme negligence.” (p. 731) “Anand and those of his view agreed that no programme could succeed one hundred per cent.” (p. 733)

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